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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Syntax—The Traffic Rules of Language   157
a Scotsman is discussing the old underwear of the silk merchant or the
silk underwear of the old merchant
If everybody does the same, it does not matter whether drivers keep
to the left as in Britain, or to the right as in the United States. By the
same token, it does not matter whether the adjective usually comes
after the noun, as in Celtic and Romance, or in front of it, as in Teu-
tonic and Slavonic, languages. The student of a Romance language will
find it helpful to recall a few fixed expressions m which the normal
English order is reversed, e g. lords temporal* malice aforethought, fee
simple, he direct, retort courteous, cook general, "body politic, knight
errant This rule does not apply to two classes of adjectives Romance
possessives and Romance numerals precede the noun Thus a Spaniard
says nuestra casa (our house) or ires muchachos (three boys),
As in English, pointer-words, e g words equivalent to this and that>
including the "articles" the and a (an), come in front both of the attri-
butive adjective and of tt\e noun in Romance as well as in Teutonic
languages In this connexion, we should be on the look out for two
classes of English idioms as pitfalls of tianslation (a) such, almost^ only,
and even precede the article, e g such a woman, almost a father, only a
coloneVs daughter., (K) any adjective qualified by the particle so precedes
the article, e g so long a journey The English rule for placing a long
adjectival expression is not the same as that of other Teutonic languages
Long English adjectival expressions often follow the corresponding
noun We do not observe the Swedish or German word-order m
a question so sudden and unexpected
We use several English words to qualify a noun, an adjective, a verb,
or a particle Four of the most common are almost, even, only, and enough
The form of these words does not tell us whether they do or do not refer
to a noun, i e whether equivalent or not equivalent to an adjective of
another language We can indicate which word they qualify by position
In English it is common to place such particles immediately in front of
the word which they qualify Unfortunately, this useful device is not
universally observed The English word enough, though placed in front
of a noun which it qualifies (e g enough bother), comes after a verb,
adjective, or particle (e g sleeping enough, a hard enough lime> working long
enough)
What matters about rules of word-order is (a) whether we apply
them consistently when they do affect the meaning of a statement,
(6) whether we allow freedom when they do not do so Some languages
have straightforward rules about the order of adverbial particles or
qualifying expressions according as they signify time, place, manner, or